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“Refusing To Comply With Laws”: The Strange New Meaning Of “Religious Freedom”

Whatever ultimately happens in various ongoing collisions between conservative clergy and laws to which they object, it is clear the former have already won a significant victory in convincing millions of Americans that “religious freedom” means the right to have one’s particular religious views explicitly reflected in public policy. That is definitely the position of the nation’s Catholic bishops, who contend they should be able to operate a wide range of quasi-public services and also enjoy the use of public subsidies, while refusing to comply with laws and regulations that contradict their religious or moral teachings.

I’ve argued in the past that what the bishops are actually seeking is not “freedom” but a sort of unwritten concordat—a broad zone of immunity from laws they choose to regard as offensive. Now there is nothing terribly unusual or inherently outrageous about this desire; Vatican diplomacy for centuries has focused on the establishment of such arrangements—though typically written rather than plenary—with a wide array of governments. It’s the idea that this sort of arrangement involves “freedom” rather than frankly acknowledged special privileges that’s novel. And it leads to some rather strange conclusions, viz. this conservative post celebrating an anti-Obama protest in San Francisco and identifying special concessions to religious groups as an example of “American exceptionalism:”

Friday, one thousand Bay Area Catholics gathered outside the Federal Building in San Francisco to celebrate America’s exceptional guarantee of freedom of religion, and defend against an unprecedented assault by the Obama Administration.

The rally was among the largest of over 100 protests by Catholics around the nation on the second (ahem) birthday of Obamacare.

From the podium, Northern California Catholic religious and secular leaders openly urged citizens to register to vote and cast ballots against President Obama in the general election, in what they called an end to “quiet conformity” by religious Americans….

The City Square, a Bay Area blog, described this religious backlash as nothing less than the opening of a second front in the “war for freedom”, alongside the Tea Party movement’s economic freedom agenda.

That is indeed an apt comparison, since the Tea Party, too, has a very special definition of “freedom.”

Still, it’s odd to hear people describe the kind of concessions to broad rights of religious self-regulation that are exceedingly common in countries without a constitutional history of church-state separation as peculiarly American.

And it’s not a view that’s been smiled upon very often by the official arbitors of the Constitution, the federal courts, as Sarah Posner recently explained at Religion Dispatches:

Conservative claims of infringement of religious freedom…are on shaky constitutional footing. Although Catholic Charities lost challenges to similar policies in state courts in California and New York, several Catholic and evangelical universities have sued HHS in federal courts around the country, charging that the contraception coverage requirement violates their religious freedom. While a federal court has yet to rule on the mandate, a ruling issued late Friday night demonstrates how the claim of infringement of religious freedom undermines the First Amendment’s prohibition on government establishment of religion.

In that case, the American Civil Liberties Union had challenged an HHS policy allowing the USCCB, which received funding under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, to refuse to refer victims of rape and sexual assault for contraceptive and abortion services. Although the Bishops and their Republican allies argue that requiring them to refer women and girls for reproductive health services amounted to a government interference with their religious freedom, Judge Richard Stearns held that allowing them to refuse to make these referrals amounted to an impermissible government endorsement of religion.

While that case would not require courts outside of Massachusetts to reach the same conclusion, or to reach the same conclusion in the lawsuits against the insurance coverage requirement, it does provide a roadmap for how a court would weigh a Free Exercise claim against an Establishment Clause claim.

Now some conservative Catholics, and many of their conservative evangelical allies (who have fully internalized David Barton’s revisionist “Christian Nation” theory that the Founders had no intention of fostering church-state separation) would view Judge Stearns’ decision as an exercise in “judicial activism” on the behalf of an aggressively “secularist” agenda. But like the Right’s redefinition of religious freedom itself, this point of view is decidedly recent in origin, and better described as “radical” than as “conservative” in spirit.

But that’s true as well of much of the American Right’s current ideological tendencies. Somehow or other, public programs as well as constitutional doctrines that the country has lived with peacefully since at least the New Deal are being denounced as involving aggressive, sinister, and even Satanic attacks on traditional liberties. That’s the connection between the protesters in San Francisco bearing “Obama the Judas of America” signs and their comrades carrying images of Andrew Breitbart outside the Supreme Court.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, March 27, 2012

March 29, 2012 Posted by | Catholic Bishops, Religion | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Arm Your Kindergarteners”: More Guns, Fewer Hoodies

The debate over the shooting death of Trayvon Martin seems to be devolving into an argument about the right to wear hoodies, but it really does not appear to be a promising development.

Congress, which never draws any serious conclusions from terrible tragedies involving gunplay, did have time on Wednesday to fight about whether Representative Bobby Rush of Chicago violated the House dress code when he took off his suit jacket, revealing a gray sweater he was wearing underneath, and pulled the hood up over his head.

You may remember that Geraldo Rivera took measure of the Martin case and determined that the moral was: young men, throw out your hoodies. Even Rivera’s son said he was embarrassed. But, hey, we’re talking about it. Mission accomplished.

“Just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum,” Congressman Rush said, before he was hustled off for violating the rule against wearing hats on the House floor.

This is pretty much par for the course. Whenever there is a terrible shooting incident somewhere in America, our politicians talk about everything except whether the tragedy could have been avoided if the gunman had not been allowed to carry a firearm.

You would think that this would be a great time to address the question of handgun proliferation, but it has hardly come up in Washington at all. This is because most politicians are terrified of the National Rifle Association. Also, the small band of gun control advocates are busy with slightly less sweeping issues, such as their ongoing but still utterly futile effort to make it illegal to sell a weapon to anyone on the terror watch list.

The only serious debate Congress is likely to have this year on the subject of guns involves whether to allow people with concealed weapons permits to carry their handguns into other states.

Say you were from — oh, maybe Florida, where George Zimmerman was carrying a legal, loaded pistol while he was driving around his gated community, looking for suspicious characters. In Florida, even non-Floridians can get a concealed carry permit. You can get the application online. From the Department of Agriculture. (“Fresh from Florida.”)

Under a bill sponsored by Senator Mark Begich, Democrat of Alaska, you could take your Florida permit and your Florida loaded handgun and travel anyplace in the country, including the states where the police investigate every permit application, and say yes to relatively few. “If this law existed today, George Zimmerman could carry a loaded hidden handgun in Times Square. Today,” said Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

And that would be the moderate version.

Senators John Thune of South Dakota and David Vitter of Louisiana have a competing bill that would relieve residents of states like Vermont and Arizona — which don’t require concealed weapons permits at all — from the cumbersome process of actually putting in some paperwork before they tote their handguns to, say, California or New Jersey. Under this one, Jared Loughner, who shot Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a judge, a small child and four other innocent Arizonans, could have brought his loaded handgun to Times Square.

There is a serious trend toward states letting their residents carry concealed weapons with no more background check than you need to carry a concealed nutcracker. All of this is based on the gun rights lobby’s argument that the more armed law-abiding people we have on our streets, the safer everybody will be. Under this line of thinking, George Zimmerman’s gated community was safer because Zimmerman was driving around with his legal gun. You can bet that future Trayvon Martins who go to the store to buy Skittles after dark will seriously consider increasing their own safety by packing heat. The next confrontation along these lines may well involve a pair of legally armed individuals, legally responding to perceived, albeit nonexistent, threats by sending a bullet through somebody’s living room window and hitting a senior citizen watching the evening weather report.

The Violence Policy Center has a list of 11 police officers and 391 private citizens who have been killed over the last five years by people carrying concealed weapons for which they had a permit. That includes a man in Florida who killed four women, including his estranged wife, in a restaurant in 2010 and another Floridian who opened fire at Thanksgiving, killing four relatives.

You would think all of this would cause states to stop and rethink. But no. And, personally, I’m worn down from arguing. Florida, follow your own star. Arizona, arm your kindergarteners. Just stop trying to impose your values on places where the thinking is dramatically different.

 Really, just leave us alone. If you don’t like our rules, don’t come here. Is that too much to ask?


By: Gail Collins, Op Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 28, 2012

March 29, 2012 Posted by | Civil Rights, Violence | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“An Alternative Legislature”: Judicial Activists In The Supreme Court

Three days of Supreme Court arguments over the health-care law demonstrated for all to see that conservative justices are prepared to act as an alternative legislature, diving deeply into policy details as if they were members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

Senator, excuse me, Justice Samuel Alito quoted Congressional Budget Office figures on Tuesday to talk about the insurance costs of the young. On Wednesday, Chief Justice John Roberts sounded like the House whip in discussing whether parts of the law could stand if other parts fell. He noted that without various provisions, Congress “wouldn’t have been able to put together, cobble together, the votes to get it through.” Tell me again, was this a courtroom or a lobbyist’s office?

It fell to the court’s liberals — the so-called “judicial activists,” remember? — to remind their conservative brethren that legislative power is supposed to rest in our government’s elected branches.

Justice Stephen Breyer noted that some of the issues raised by opponents of the law were about “the merits of the bill,” a proper concern of Congress, not the courts. And in arguing for restraint, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked what was wrong with leaving as much discretion as possible “in the hands of the people who should be fixing this, not us.” It was nice to be reminded that we’re a democracy, not a judicial dictatorship.

The conservative justices were obsessed with weird hypotheticals. If the federal government could make you buy health insurance, might it require you to buy broccoli, health club memberships, cellphones, burial services and cars? All of which have nothing to do with an uninsured person getting expensive treatment that others — often taxpayers — have to pay for.

Liberals should learn from this display that there is no point in catering to today’s hard-line conservatives. The individual mandate was a conservative idea that President Obama adopted to preserve the private market in health insurance rather than move toward a government-financed, single-payer system. What he got back from conservatives was not gratitude but charges of socialism — for adopting their own proposal.

The irony is that if the court’s conservatives overthrow the mandate, they will hasten the arrival of a more government-heavy system. Justice Anthony Kennedy even hinted that it might be more “honest” if government simply used “the tax power to raise revenue and to just have a national health service, single-payer.” Remember those words.

One of the most astonishing arguments came from Roberts, who spoke with alarm that people would be required to purchase coverage for issues they might never confront. He specifically cited “pediatric services” and “maternity services.”

Well, yes, men pay to cover maternity services while women pay for treating prostate problems. It’s called health insurance. Would it be better to segregate the insurance market along gender lines?

The court’s right-wing justices seemed to forget that the best argument for the individual mandate was made in 1989 by a respected conservative, the Heritage Foundation’s Stuart Butler.

“If a man is struck down by a heart attack in the street,” Butler said, “Americans will care for him whether or not he has insurance. If we find that he has spent his money on other things rather than insurance, we may be angry but we will not deny him services — even if that means more prudent citizens end up paying the tab. A mandate on individuals recognizes this implicit contract.”

Justice Antonin Scalia seemed to reject the sense of solidarity that Butler embraced. When Solicitor General Donald Verrilli explained that “we’ve obligated ourselves so that people get health care,” Scalia replied coolly: “Well, don’t obligate yourself to that.” Does this mean letting Butler’s uninsured guy die?

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick called attention to this exchange and was eloquent in describing its meaning. “This case isn’t so much about freedom from government-mandated broccoli or gyms,” Lithwick wrote. “It’s about freedom from our obligations to one another . . . the freedom to ignore the injured” and to “walk away from those in peril.”

This is what conservative justices will do if they strike down or cripple the health-care law. And a court that gave us Bush v. Gore and Citizens United will prove conclusively that it sees no limits on its power, no need to defer to those elected to make our laws. A Supreme Court that is supposed to give us justice will instead deliver ideology.

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 28, 2012

March 29, 2012 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Number One Geopolitical Foe”: Romney’s Comments On Russia ‘Are A Bit Puzzling’

GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney thought his mediocre campaign stumbled upon a game changer this week when President Obama was caught on an open mic telling Russian President Dimitry Medvedev that he’d be more “flexible” on issues like missile defense after the election. Romney called Obama’s comment “frightening” because Russia “is without question our number one geopolitical foe.” As evidence, Romney said “it is always Russia” that opposes the United States at the United Nations.

The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler looked into this claim and concluded that “Romney’s comments are a bit puzzling“:

But on the broader question of Iran and North Korea, Romney’s comments are a bit puzzling. Russia has repeatedly supported resolutions that have sought to limit Tehran’s and Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, such as the 2010 Security Council resolution that paved the way for increasingly tough sanctions on Iran.

As we wrote in our book on former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, some of the negotiations leading up to those resolutions were difficult and contentious, but it would be wrong to say Russia was “standing up” for those “bad actors.” Russia has cast no vetoes on resolutions concerning Iran and North Korea.

Indeed, Romney has been misrepresenting Obama’s record on Russia and Iran throughout the presidential campaign. “Had he gotten Russia to agree to impose tough, crippling sanctions on Iran, we could have put a lot more pressure on Iran,” Romney said back in September.

But as this blog noted at the time, the Obama administration spearheaded an effort to apply tougher sanctions on Iran in 2010. In June, Russia voted for U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposed a fourth round of tough sanctions on Iran because of it’s failure to comply with earlier resolutions demanding an end to nuclear enrichment. Last Spring, a U.N. experts panel on the sanctions concluded that the new measures “are constraining Iran’s procurement of items related to prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile activity and thus slowing development of these programs.”

Romney said this week that he does not think Obama “can recover” from the fallout of his comments to Medvedev. But it might turn out that it’s the former Massachusetts governor who will have some more explaining to do. Apart from being wrong on the substance of his attack on Obama, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) basically told Romney to stop criticizing the president and even some of Romney’s supporters have said publicly that he’s wrong to say that Russia is America’s “number one geopolitical foe.”


By: Ben Armbruster, Think Progress, March 28, 2012

March 29, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mitt’s Q-Tip”: Appeal Helps Obama No Matter What The Supreme Court Decides

Irony alert — President Obama gets a boost no matter what the Supreme Court decides on his politically toxic healthcare reform law.

The high court either upholds Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment, imprinting it for history, or it overturns the law, thereby breaking a big stick with which the GOP planned to beat Obama this fall. Should front-runner Mitt Romney become the GOP nominee, what’s left of the stick would more likely resemble a Q-Tip.

Although a final ruling is nearly four months away, oral arguments at the Supreme Court on Tuesday called into question the constitutionality of a mandate to purchase insurance. But recall that four years ago, then-Sen. Barack Obama opposed a mandate for the purchase of healthcare insurance when he was running against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. Four years ago, Romney, on the other hand, admitted his support for mandates.

Obama ultimately changed his mind, and followed the example then-Gov. Romney had set when he signed healthcare reform into law in Massachusetts in 2006. Both men concluded that conservative think tank Heritage Foundation was correct decades ago in deciding there was no way, without a mandate to buy coverage, to control prices or to protect the taxpayer from uninsured free riders who leech off the government every time they go to the emergency room.

While Romney could control the choice to build elevators for his cars at the beach house he is building in California, he could not control the fact that Obama changed his mind on the mandate, that his law evoked a visceral reaction from the GOP base or that Newt Gingrich and every other conservative who had supported the mandate earlier would flip from the concept and run. Romney, who started running for president in 2006 or earlier as the conservative alternative to John McCain, chose to run after them. Romney tried pivoting by claiming he never intended it to become a national model, yet a Google search proves that effectively false.

Fortunately for Romney, it hasn’t been that tough to keep his stride. Republicans seeking to defeat him in the primary campaign failed miserably to use the best weapon against him — he was given a pass on RomneyCare. But no more. Romney can be sure the Obama campaign will possess the discipline Rick Santorum did not and won’t be distracted from healthcare by messages that send female voters running for the hills. Obama the candidate surely won’t display any weakness or kindness to his rival, or whatever it was that caused former Minnesota GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty to retreat from his planned attack on “ObamneyCare” and basically kill off his own candidacy for good.

Democratic strategist James Carville said on CNN that the prospect of the healthcare law being overturned might be the best political outcome for Democrats and Obama.

“I honestly believe — this is not spin — I think that this will be the best thing to ever happen to the Democratic Party, because healthcare costs will escalate unbelievably … the Republican Party will own the healthcare system for the foreseeable future.”

Unbelievably cynical. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made the same point almost immediately.

Should ObamaCare be stricken, congressional Republicans will be free to paint the president and his party as socialists who passed a partisan, unpopular, unprecedented intrusion of government into the private sector and ultimately had to be stopped by the Supreme Court from destroying liberty in the United States for all time.

Romney might not want to, as it will only invite attacks on his ambiguous record of supporting insurance mandates. He will probably want to stick to the economy instead, and to hunt for some other sticks.


By: A. B. Stoddard, Associate Editor, The Hill, March 28, 2012

March 29, 2012 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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